|Initiation is not completed in a day. It is completed when knowledge of one's relationship with Krsna is realized and one's devotional orientation to life is thus complete.
Q. There are so many forms of God and they are all attractive. I would be excited to know which particular form of God is my ista devata (personal Deity). My guru is Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I have no idea who my ista devata is and can imagine that it could even be Rama or Narasinghadeva.
I worship Krsna, but I am also attracted to the worship of Lord Narasinghadeva. I understand that devotees initiated into the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya are generally destined to love Krsna in Vrndavana where love in intimacy obscures his Godhood. Therefore, I wonder why I am also attracted to Lord Narasingha, who is worshiped in awe and reverence. Can you tell me if Lord Narasinghadeva could be my ista devata?
A. Your guru, Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, gave you the Gaura mantra and Krsna mantra at the time of your initiation. Thus your ista devata is Krsna, who has appeared in this age as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (Gaura). Had he envisioned your ista devata to be Lord Rama or Lord Narasingha, he would have given you the appropriate mantras, as one's ista devata is the Deity propitiated in one's diksa mantras. These matters are addressed in Hari-bhakti-vilasa. Your relationship with your ista devata is also to be found in your diksa mantra. Knowing your ista devata falls within sambandha-jnana, and this knowledge informs your spiritual practice (abhidheya tattva), by which spiritual perfection is realized (prayojana tattva).
You should chant your diksa mantra aspiring to serve Krsna selflessly in Vrndavana under the guidance of your gurudeva. Pursue this highest ideal of selfless service and you will progress more rapidly than you would have done without understanding who your ista devata is. This is confirmed in Sanatana Goswami's Brhad-bhagavatamrta. There Gopa Kumara was told who his ista devata was by Narada in the capacity of a siksa guru, because his diksa guru went into an ecstatic trance after giving him diksa and did not have time to do so. Moreover, your own diksa guru, Srila Prabhupada, has told you as much if you read his books (siksa) carefully.
With this in mind, you can also worship Sri Narasinghadeva, considering him an incarnation of Krsna. Prahlada was a devotee of Krsna, and relative to Prabhlada's circumstances, Krsna appeared to him as Narasinghadeva. Among other things, this form of the Lord protects Krsna's devotees, as he did Mahaprabhu's sankirtana in Nadiya. This is also the context in which Srila Prabhupada introduced a song glorifying Narasinghadeva into his mission. Members of our sampradaya cherish the ideal of serving Krsna in Vrndavana and worship Narasinghadeva in this mood.
Editor's note: Further information on this topic is found in the Sanga called "The Magic of Diksa"
Q. What does Lord Narasinghadeva have to do with Sridhara Swami and his famous commentary on the Srimad-Bhagavatam?
A. Sri Narasingha is the ista devata of Sridhara Swami, whose commentary on the Bhagavatam was so dear to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Sridhara Swami presented his commentary in Benares, which at that time was the center of Saivism and Mayavada philosophy. Mayavadi religious leaders there questioned the devotional conclusions of Sridhara Swami's commentary on the Bhagavatam and decided to test those conclusions by placing it before the Deity of Lord Siva. It is said that when the sanctuary doors were later opened this Sanskrit verse was heard coming from the Deity:
suko vetti vyaso vetti raja vetti na vetti va sridharo hi sarvam vetti sri nrsimha prasadatah
"Sukadeva knows the meaning of the Bhagavatam, and Vyasa knows its meaning as well. Raja Pariksit may or may not know the meaning, but Sridhara Swami knows everything by the grace of Sri Narasingha."
In Jaipur, where Sri Jiva Goswami's Deity is cared for, there is a large Deity of Narasinghadeva. I prayed to him that I might understand Srimad-Bhagavatam as presented by Sri Jiva Goswami, who also studied in Benares.
Q. In one place in scripture it says that God does not interfere with the law of karma, but in another place it says that Krsna is directly involved with the lives of his devotees. How can both be true, and is it true for aspiring devotees who might not yet be considered saints? Does Krsna create circumstances in their lives to bring them closer to him?
A. In Bhagavad-gita 9.29 Krsna says he is equal to everyone, but in the same verse he distinguishes those who are devoted to him from others by saying, ye bhajanty tu mam bhaktya mayi te tesu capy aham: that he dwells within them. He distinguishes his devotees from nondevotees in a number of other places in the Gita as well, promising in 9.22 to supply the needs of his devotees and in 7.23 to bring them close to him. In this regard the verse paritranaya sadhunam (4.8) where Krsna says he will deliver the pious is also significant, and in Gita verses 18.21-22 Krsna says plainly that no one is dearer to him than the devotee who explains the secrets of bhakti to others.
Ajamila's deliverance, as discussed in the Bhagavatam, is also a good reference point for God being personally involved in the lives of his devotees, as is the story of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata, where Krsna put them in distress so that he could personally save them. Also, Srila Prabhupada often cited the famous Bhagavatam verse yasyaham anugrhnami harisye tad-dhanam sanaih, in which Sri Krsna says that he takes away things from his devotees to bring them closer to him.
These scriptural references show that Krsna treats his devotees specially, so much so that in Gita 9.30 he says that his devotees should be considered saintly even if they do something wrong. Thus God is definitely involved in the lives of sadhakas, and he does make arrangements to bring them closer to him. This topic is also discussed at some length in Madhurya Kadambini, where Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti comments:
"It is at night that the sunrise becomes attractive, during the hot summer that cold water gives comfort, and during the cold winter months that warm water is pleasing. Lamplight appears attractive in darkness, not in the glaring light of day, and when one is distressed by hunger, food tastes especially good."
In other words, Krsna arranges distress for his devotees and thus makes himself, their deliverer, that much more attractive.
Here is another good way to look at this issue. In his Bhakti-sandarbha, Sri Jiva Goswami writes the following about diksa, divyam jnanam yato dadyat kuryat papasya sanksayam: "(Diksa) involves giving of transcendental knowledge, by which sins are destroyed."
The idea is that the mantra, or seed of transcendental knowledge, imparted by the guru to the disciple at the time of diksa includes within it knowledge of one's eternal relationship with Krsna. This seed of transcendental knowledge has the potential to destroy ignorance (avidya), which is the cause of all distress (klesa) manifesting as one's karma.
Thus one who is properly initiated is freed from karma to the extent that he or she takes advantage of diksa, causing the seed of transcendental knowledge to grow and bear fruit. This takes time. Initiation is not completed in a day. It is completed when knowledge of one's relationship with Krsna is realized and one's devotional orientation to life is thus complete.
Knowledge pertaining to one's devotional orientation to life is called sambandha-jnana, which literally means "knowledge of relationship." Diksa is a function of sambandha-jnana. When one's sambandha-jnana is complete, one can graduate from sadhana-bhakti to bhava-bhakti. Bhava-bhakti (devotional service with real feeling) involves devotional engagement with the realization of one's relationship with Krsna. That relationship is cultivated in emotional ecstasy up to the stage of prema-bhakti--pure love of God.
So initiated devotees are free from karma to the extent that they apply themselves to that which is given to them at the time of initiation: Krsna nama and Krsna mantra. Furthermore, whatever karmic influence remains in their life is an edited form of the karma that they are due, edited by Krsna to bring his devotees closer to him.
Q. If one's spiritual identity (svarupa) is inherent within the jiva, how can one say that a person who is in contact with Gaudiya Vaisnavism is destined to love Krsna in Vrndavana rather than Visnu, Siva, or another form of Krsna, such as Krsna in Mathura or Dvaraka?
A. The Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya is a raga-marga sampradaya, a lineage that facilitates the development of love for Krsna in Vrndavana--Vrajendranandana Krsna. It specializes in facilitating the development of conjugal love (gopi bhava) as well as friendly love (sakhya bhava) for Krsna. Thus souls destined for this kind of love of God will be attracted to the Gaudiya lineage. However, in its wide-scale propaganda it may touch all kinds of jiva souls, even those destined for devotion in awe and reverence, as emphasized in other Vaisnava lineages. No harm. Sri Caitanya is svayam bhagavan and by his grace one can attain whatever eternal service one is destined for.
If after some time a member of the Gaudiya lineage finds greater attraction for devotion to Krsna in Dvaraka or Visnu in Vaikuntha, this kind of love can be pursued with the blessing of Sri Guru and Gauranga. In doing so such a person may choose to affiliate more closely with a lineage that emphasizes this ideal. I know of several instances in which this has happened.
It is worth noting that a number of Gaudiya acaryas have taught that the jiva soul has dasya-bhakti inherent within its heart and that by association and diksa in the raga-marga sampradaya of Sri Caitanyadeva the jiva gains the opportunity to attain Vraja bhakti. Others teach that there is no bhakti inherent in the jiva and that its capacity to attain any relationship with God is dependent on association and diksa in a particular lineage.
In the lineage of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, however, we teach that the svarupa of the jiva is inherent within the jiva and in this sense is predetermined. Support for this can be drawn, among other places, from Vedanta-sutra 4.4.1, which other Vaisnava sampradayas also draw on in establishing the svarupa of the jiva to be inherent. This svarupa is awakened through diksa (initiation), siksa (instruction), and devotional practices like sravanam (hearing), kirtanam (chanting), smaranam (remembering). Sri Caitanya-caritamrta describes this thus, krsna prema nitya siddha sadhya kabhu nay sravanadi suddha cite karaye udaya: "Krsna prema is eternally existing. It is not something that is attained as a result of spiritual practice. Through the spiritual practices of hearing, chanting, remembering, and so on, one's heart is cleansed and this prema awakens therein."
As for the jiva having a relationship with Lord Siva, this is possible in the sense that Siva and Visnu are one--Sadasiva. In Caitanya lila, Advaita Acarya represents Siva as much as he represents Visnu. Otherwise, Gaudiya Vaisnavas worship Siva as a devotee of Krsna, Gopisvara the ksetra pala (protector of the Lord's abode). Srimad-Bhagavatam says, vaisnavanam yatah sambhu: "Lord Siva is the greatest Vaisnava.
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